Knox County public transportation panel backs hourly weekday service

Posted Oct. 10, 2013, at 4:57 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — Members of a group that has been working for two years on bringing public transportation to Knox County voiced their informal support Thursday for a bus service that would offer a set weekday schedule with stops on the hour along Route 1.

The Midcoast Maine Transit Study Committee reviewed a series of options on how to provide service, although the committee’s chairman said that it will take a lot more time before a service is operational.

“One of the big keys is hourly service,” said Chairman Donald White of Camden.

He said people would not consider the service reliable unless buses picked up passengers at least on an hourly basis at designated stops.

The options showed a varying amount of potential ridership based on the model of service provided.

But Tony Dewolfe, who operates Schooner Bay Taxi in Rockland, questioned the ridership numbers included in the preliminary report. He said he did a study of his own and can’t figure out how the committee’s consultant concluded that as many as 242 people could ride the bus on a day. He said he projected 532 people a month.

Dewolfe said his taxi service accounts for about 60 percent of the Rockland market.

Boris Palchik of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, which authored the committee study, said Thursday by telephone after the meeting that the potential ridership numbers are based on his firm’s experience with similar small urban environments. The firm is a national transportation consulting company with the nearest office in Boston.

The local committee has been looking at providing public transit service along Route 1 from Thomaston to Camden. Rockland, Thomaston, Camden and Rockport provided money to pay for the study.

There will be a public information meeting for the general public to go over the report at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Rockland City Council chambers. White said that questions raised by panel members on Thursday will be forwarded to the study’s author, Nelson/Nygaard, so that the answers will be available on Oct. 23.

The options provided to the panel included whether to have on-demand bus service in which people would call in for rides, or to have a fixed route and fixed locations for stops, or a hybrid of those options.

Panelists voiced support for a fixed route with a weekday schedule.

Among the anchor stops on any route would be Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport. Other stops that are considered important are the Walmart supercenter that will open next week on Route 1 in Thomaston, the Penobscot Bay YMCA in Rockport, the Hannaford stores in Camden and Rockland, Shaw’s supermarket in Rockland, the public libraries in Camden, Thomaston and Rockland, the Maine State Ferry Terminal in Rockland, Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Oceanside High School East in Rockland, Oceanside High School West in Thomaston and University College in Rockland.

Among the concerns voiced was whether that many stops could be accomplished on an hourly basis during the busy summer traffic times. The study said that the number of buses needed would range from as few as one to as many as four.

White stressed that the study was preliminary and that issues such as where funding would come from need to be addressed.

Anita Brosius Scott of Camden said that the panel should consider Saturday service so as not to miss out on the demand from people who shop on that day.

Lee Karner, director of Coastal Trans, said his experience from the Brunswick transportation service shows that there was little demand for Saturday service or service on holidays.

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